Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators pitcher Darren O’Day, currently a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles after spending time with three other MLB teams, was pranked by MLB Fan Cave and his manager Buck Showalter. Watch him get chewed out and completely fall for it:

» Former Gators striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach sat down for an in-depth and informative interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts and discussed a number of topics including the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Wambach became an extremely popular sports figure after leading the Americans to the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup with some incredibly clutch goals and is now the face of the sport in the United States.

» Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte spoke with NBC‘s Bob Costas when he was done competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials over the weekend. Lochte speaks about the Olympics, his rivalry with Phelps and learning how to become a better athlete and competitor (Video).

» The Detroit Pistons did not extend a qualifying offer to former Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin over the weekend, officially making him an unrestricted free agent just one year after the team selected him with the No. 52 overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Despite not being tendered, Macklin will still play with Detroit’s summer league team in hopes of being re-signed or catching the eye of another squad. He was sent down to the NBA D-League during the season but dominated the competition by averaging 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds in the games he played. He should be picked up by a team at some point sooner than later.

Read SIX more Gator Bites on Nelson, Cooper, Hill and Beal…after the break!
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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Thompson, Haslem, Miller

1 » The situation between former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin and the Minnesota Vikings continues to get more muddled by the day. After missing practice one day last week and officially requesting a trade, Harvin was believed to be seeking a new contract that paid him closer to what he deserves for his on-field production. However, he came out publicly and said that his contract was not the issue, which brought up his playing time (Harvin was on the field for just 58.4 percent of his team’s offensive touchdowns in 2011) and production (he was not a member of the Vikings’ standard red zone package) into focus. Just one day after skipping practice, Harvin returned to the field and said he will also be a full participant in training camp, leading some to believe that he may have worked out at least some of his issues with the coaching staff. However, head coach Leslie Frazier told ESPN 1500 in Minnesota that he cannot guarantee Harvin will get more touches this season though the team will try to get him on the field more often. “[His] snaps may go up…touches, I don’t know about that,” he said. “We want to keep him on the field more, but his style – he’s a reckless guy and doesn’t hold anything back. [He] always goes 100 miles an hour. So you have to be careful about not overusing him.” General manager Rick Spielman told the same station he expressed to Harvin that he will not be traded, making his request moot considering the team can theorhetically control him contract-wise for three more years by using the franchise tag in 2014. “I know Coach Frazier really met and sat and talked a lot with Percy. I dealt more with the business side of it and dealt with his agent, Joel Segal,” Spielman said. “As far as I know, the last dialogue I had, we’re expecting Percy to be at training camp and ready to go.”

2 » Once again “turning heads” in offseason activities is WR Deonte Thompson, who has been showing the Baltimore Ravens that they made a smart decision in signing him as an undrafted free agent. According to the team’s website, Thompson “blew by Baltimore secondary [and] busted out a leaping celebration for emphasis” when scoring a touchdown last Wednesday and has been a constant bright spot for the organization during minicamp. “It’s competitive. I know I have to bring my ‘A’ game every day because they’re bringing theirs,” said Thompson of his position mates. “I’ve got some wheels. I think they haven’t seen my knack for big plays. I feel like every time I touch the ball there’s a possibility of something big happening,” he added about his talents and chances of making the final roster. “I know it’s possible. I know the best player is going to play here. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll have a chance.”

3 » Former Florida power forward Udonis Haslem had plenty of praise for Miami Heat teammate guard Mike Miller and the way he performed in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, scoring 23 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-8 shooting from downtown. “It’s hard to explain. He’s been in a tremendous amount of pain, but he comes out every night and lays it on the line. That’s all we can ask for,” he said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He picked a hell of a time to come through for us.” Haslem captured his second NBA title (he won his first with Miami in 2006) but, like Miller (who won his first this year), was in more of a supporting role this time around. Nevertheless, the duo of former Gators played an integral part in bringing a championship home to South Florida.

4 » Philadelphia Eagles WR Riley Cooper spent last Thursday volunteering with the United Way during the organization’s annual Day of Action. According to Lipsticking.com, Cooper joined “a core group of college-educated, civic-minded NFL players committed to helping United Way recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors” and worked toward that goal by spending time with the foundation and some of its members in Washington, D.C. The website also notes that Cooper “mentored three boys and helped increase their GPAs from 2.0 to As & Bs” while also completing other charity work (both team-sponsored and not) as a student at the University of Florida.

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SIX BITS: Noah, Pouncey, Cooper, Zunino, Embree

1 » Like any good player, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to work extensively on his game over the summer. In order to do just that, Noah will enlist the help of Hall of Famer, six-time Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player said Wednesday while on a visit at a high school in Chicago, according to RealGM.com. Abdul-Jabbar has worked with a number of prominent NBA big men over the last few years so it is certainly no surprise that Noah would seek his advice. It will be one of the many things he plans on doing this summer as he is also scheduled to play for the French Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics and work with trainers to improve his strength and conditioning heading into the 2012-13 season.

2 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on NFL Network this Thursday where he discussed new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the team’s quarterback competition and the Dolphins’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. He also spoke highly about new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey when asked if there were any more Pouncey brothers on the back burner who could make an impact in the NFL in the future. “No, but we got a step brother in Chris Rainey who the Steelers selected in the fifth round. We’re hoping for big things out of him up there this year. He’s a great football player, and I think the Steelers made a great selection,” he said.

3 » Another year older, another year wiser and hopefully another year more polished, wide receiver Riley Cooper hopes he can make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. “I’ve only had like [five] starts the whole time I’ve been here. It’s just game experience. The more game experience you get the better you get,” he told the team’s website. He also hopes that his first real offseason with the coaching staff will help him make major strides on the field. “I haven’t had an offseason, so it’s helping out a lot. I get one-on-one work with [senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David] Culley. We’re doing a lot of routes, getting a lot of work in. It’s benefiting me a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a bunch of things I want to get better at and that’s what the offseason does.”

4 » ESPN’s baseball scouts are not the only ones heaping praise on Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino. Just like the Worldwide Leader, MLB.com has Zunino listed as their No. 3 overall player available in the 2012 MLB Draft and notes that he is both the best bat and best player currently playing college baseball. Just two days after being named a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, Zunino learned that he is also a semifinalist for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year. Considered the “Heisman Trophy” of college baseball, the Howser Trophy has never been won by a Florida baseball player. Zunino is one of 35 semifinalists for the award.

5 » ESPNW.com continues its countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years following the adoption of Title IX and has added two more former Gators to their list. Following striker Abby Wambach (No. 33), come swimmers Tracy Caulkins (No. 25) and Dara Torres (No. 23). Caulkins is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time NCAA Champion, while Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist (four golds) and three-time NCAA Champion. Torres is also the first United States swimmer to compete in five separate Olympics and is also the oldest swimmer to ever compete for the U.S. There are 20 spots still unannounced as part of ESPNW‘s countdown so there is an opportunity for additional former Florida student-athletes to find a spot on the list.

6 » Gators junior tennis player Lauren Embree, the ninth-ranked woman in the world according to ITA, has been writing a blog for the USTA over the last week. In her latest entry, submitted following Florida’s big round of 16 win over Michigan on Thursday, Embree talks about waiting out a rain delay, pulling out a come-from-behind doubles victory and advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. “I think everyone was really anxious and excited to get things going, and most of us got out to really good starts, which helped the momentum of the team,” she wrote. “I guess it’s good we have the day off [Friday] since we have had such a long night. Our team is also so thankful we have fans that stay up and cheer for us. They really helped us pull through tonight, and we could not have done it without them!”

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QB Mornhinweg switches from PSU to Florida

Soon after offensive coordinator Brent Pease was hired by the Florida Gators, he made it clear to the coaching staff that he wanted a quarterback as part of the team’s 2012 recruiting class. He got his wish Friday as three-star QB Skyler Mornhinweg (Philadelphia, PA) announced that he has officially switched his commitment from the Penn State Nittany Lions to the Gators.

Mornhinweg’s decision was first reported by ESPN citing a source close to the situation. Rivals.com confirmed the decision a short while later.

Committed to Penn State since July 19, Mornhinweg (6’3” 215 lbs.) recently began to soften his pledge and wavered in his decision to play in Happy Valley, PA.

He is now Florida’s 21st commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle and will be the fourth scholarship quarterback on UF’s roster next season along with sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and (redshirt) Tyler Murphy.

Taking over the Gators’ offense, Pease reached out to the son of friend and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, a former teammate of his at Montana. The older Mornhinweg was a four-year starter who set 15 passing records at the school and graduated in 1985, the same year that Pease transferred to the program and sat out a season before starting as a senior in 1986.

The younger Mornhinweg took a trip to Gainesville, FL from Jan. 21-22 and received an official scholarship offer during his visit. However, he was also given a Jan. 25 deadline to decide whether or not he would accept.

The deadline was put in place by Florida because Pease is so dead set on bringing in a signal caller that a backup candidate, Paxton Lynch (Deltona, FL), was in place should Mornhinweg decline the offer. The Gators wound up pulling the deadline as Mornhinweg asked for more time to make his decision.

The Nittany Lions were obviously prepared for the potential defection, gaining a commitment Tuesday from three-star QB Steven Bench (Cairo, GA), a Rice pledge.

Mornhinweg, unranked nationally or positionally by Rivals, is considered a four-star recruit and the No. 19 player at his position by ESPNU.

Photo Credit: Montgomery News

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Miller, Tebow, Cooper

1 » Former Florida Gators student-athlete Ryan Lochte, a six-time Olympic medalist who is arguably the best male swimmer in the United States, received Kelly Anderson’s nomination for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award, which will be announced by the publication on Dec. 6. “Lochte may soon leave a mark on the sport that’s far more permanent than fading footprints on the pool deck,” Anderson wrote about her nomination. Lochte is the second former Florida athlete to receive a nomination for Sportsman of the Year. Former Gators striker Abby Wambach, the leader of the U.S. in the 2011 Women’s World Cup was touted by SI’s Chris Mahr on Nov. 1.

2 » Former Florida forward Udonis Haslem, one of two ex-Gators on the Miami Heat last season, told reporters Thursday that teammate guard Mike Miller had hernia surgery a few days ago and will miss at least two months of action. “I know Mike. He’s a strong guy, he’s going to stay positive and he’s going to get back as soon as he can,” Haslem said, according to the Associated Press. “The key with Mike is, we’ve got to fight him not to get back too fast. He’s going to want to be out there. He’s going to want to play. He’s got to just pace himself and get healthy.” Miller, who was supposed to be a key part of Miami’s team but only saw action in 41 regular season games last season due to a number of injuries, may have sealed his fate with the Heat. He could be a victim of the NBA’s new amnesty clause, which allows each team to waive one player and not have his contract count against their salary cap.

3 » One night before the Denver Broncos captured their fourth consecutive win, quarterback Tim Tebow addressed the team at the request of head coach John Fox. The Denver Post reports that Tebow’s speech included a quote from the Bible: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This hit home with his teammates, notably rookie linebacker Von Miller, one of the team’s best players this season. “He said iron sharpens iron and men sharpen other men. And I think that’s totally true,” he said. “He gave us a great speech. We came out fired up. And that was a wrap.” Tebow told the paper that he was honored to be asked by Fox to speak to the team. “It was a powerful speech. It was motivating. You had guys cheering by the end of the speech,” tight end Dante Rosario told NFL Network.

4 » Wide receiver Riley Cooper is set to make his third-straight start for the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday in place of injured starter Jeremy Maclin and has performed quite admirably during his first two appearances., catching eight balls for 146 yards and a touchdown. He spoke to NFL Network a few days ago about how comfortable he has become in the offense catching passes from QB Vince Young. “Being the fourth guy, I was with Vince a lot, especially during training camp because I ran with the twos,” he said. “We have a lot of chemistry. We were in the huddle a lot together. He’s one of my really good friends, and I love the fact that he keeps throwing the ball up to me and allowing me to make plays.” You can watch the rest of Cooper’s “Around the League” interview by clicking here.

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FOUR BITS: Ingram, Warren, Hill, Cooper

1 » Unfortunate news for former Florida Gators tight end Cornelius Ingram, who was waived off the Detroit Lions practice squad Wednesday. Ingram is once again a free agent and continues to rehabilitate his knee after multiple ACL surgeries and injuries.

2 » The New England Patriots re-signed former Gators defensive lineman Gerard Warren on Tuesday, a move that had been expected most of the season. He was previously released from the team in order to make room for a third tight end but is now back with the organization he played for in 2010.

3 » Former Florida safety Will Hill, who left school a year early to turn pro and was neither selected in the 2011 NFL Draft nor signed by a team as an undrafted free agent, agreed to a deal with the Arizona Rattlers of the AFL, the team announced on Wednesday. “I’m excited to get out on the field,” said Hill in the team’s official release. “I’m ready to get out there and put people over the [dasher board] wall.”

4 » Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid confirmed on Wednesday that wide receiver Riley Cooper, who suffered a concussion against the New York Giants last week, has been cleared to return to practice. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Cooper’s concussion was his second with the Eagles (he had one in 2010) and third since he started playing college football.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, September 8th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we try to catch them with Gator Bites. Enjoy.

» Remember back in April when Florida Gators forwards junior Erik Murphy and redshirt freshman Cody Larson were arrested for allegedly trying to break into a car? Since then the felony chargers were reduced to misdemeanors for both parties and Murphy accepted a plea deal that netted him fines, community service and a few other minor penalties. Larson’s situation, on the other hand, is not even close to resolved. The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway reports that he will have a Oct. 31 sentencing date to determine what legal action will be taken against him. He had previously entered a not guilty plea but could change it on the day of sentencing. As individual Florida basketball drills begin this week and practice starts on Oct. 15, according to Brockway, Larson’s status remains up in the air. The duo is currently indefinitely suspended from the team, though the expectation is that Murphy will be reinstated now that his legal situation is settled.

» Gators baseball received a commitment Wednesday evening as outfielder Max White chose to continue his career in Gainesville, FL. Also a left-handed pitcher, White is recovering from shoulder surgery and chose Florida over LSU, Central Florida, N.C. State, Maryland and North Florida, according to the Sun. “I have always wanted to play for Florida,” he told the paper. “To be in the situation where all of my hard work could possibly lead me to play for them — that is a great feeling. I just want to keep at it and I especially do not want them UF to see me slack off.”

» Florida head football coach Will Muschamp is known for his fiery demeanor on the sidelines. This fan video shot from the season opener against Florida Atlantic shows a mini-tantrum he threw during the game.

Read the rest of the Gator Bites (and watch four videos) after the break!
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